Friend of the Court Coordination Conferences
Widely Utilized in West Michigan Including Ottawa, Kent, Muskegon and Allegan Counties
In Michigan, the Friend of the Court is an extension of the Family Division of the Circuit Court whose role is to provide assistance to the court and furnish the court with recommendations related to matters such as custody, parenting time, and child support. The Friend of the Court is also responsible for enforcement of and assisting in the collection of child support and spousal support.
Most Michigan counties now utilize the Friend of the Court coordination conference early in divorces with minor children. This may also be referred to as a conciliation conference, or early Friend of the Court mediation. The meeting is intended to encourage the parties to begin productively discussing custody, parenting time and support and to define the rights of each parent. This may include recommending a temporary order for legal and physical custody and child support. The Friend of the Court seldom gets involved in temporary spousal support issues or possession of the marital home.
What Happens at the Friend of the Court Coordination Conference?
In the West Michigan Lakeshore Counties, the plaintiff and defendant will receive a letter from the Friend of the Court worker assigned to their case shortly after the complaint for divorce has been filed. This letter will provide a date and time for the Friend of the Court coordination conference, usually within a few weeks following the initiation of the new divorce case. Most counties will allow attorneys to attend the conference, but for the most part they are not allowed to actively participate. The parties are required to appear and confer with the worker concerning the children’s needs and are encouraged to agree upon a custody and parenting time plan. Where the parents do not agree, the Friend of the Court worker will prepare a written recommendation and order based upon information gathered in the coordination conference and submit it to the judge and to the parties by mail, with notice of the right to object and the procedure for doing so.
If neither party objects to this recommendation within 21 days, it becomes a temporary court order that will remain in place until otherwise modified. The parties are also required to produce income information at the meeting, and the Friend of the Court worker will calculate child support based upon income information provided and the number of overnights assigned to each parent. The support calculations are also subject to objection by either party. If either party objects to the custody, parenting time or support provisions contained in the recommended order, the court will schedule the objection for a hearing before the judge. At the hearing, the judge will either adopt the recommendation of the Friend of the Court and enter it as an order, modify the recommendation, or schedule an evidentiary hearing if factual disputes exist.
The coordination conference can prove invaluable in bringing some sanity to the often chaotic weeks following the filing of a complaint for divorce. It should be taken seriously, as it presents an opportunity to resolve important issues that affect the children.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss your case in detail. Call my Holland, Michigan office today to arrange a complimentary consultation.